‘Do you work for her?’ they’d ask. ‘I’m her daughter.’ My parents being deaf isn’t a thing to be SORRY for.’: Daughter of deaf parents describe joys of growing up, ‘Experiencing this is a gift’

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“Do you work for her?’

My mom was once beautiful, and academically talented. Now, years of chain cigarette smoking, coke guzzling, bouts of mental illness, unemployment and trauma have caught up to her. When visiting, I clean her house, and then we walk to the convenience store to buy her some more coke. When we get to the counter, my mom asks for cigarettes and the storekeeper asks me if I work for my mom. ‘I am her daughter,’ I reply, and the storekeeper is surprised at the contrast between me and my mom’s now disheveled appearance. As a child I spent a lot of time doing ‘adult’ things, like calling bill collectors because it was quicker than going through a relay service.

Courtesy of Earthie Weber

Deaf people are loud- and also enjoy music!

Contrary to what many people expect, living in a deaf household can be very loud! A lot of deaf communication, especially in group situations, involves stomping on the ground, or tapping the table in order to get someone’s attention. Due to them not being able to hear themselves, some deaf people have loud vocalization (my grandfather was a speech therapist, so my mom was able to speak well and was ‘oral’). I remember many sleepless nights in my childhood with me sassily going downstairs to sign ‘voice off!’ which are words specifically made for hearing people to ask deaf people to not use their voice. Also, many deaf people love hip hop! This is because many are either not completely deaf (hard of hearing), or enjoy feeling the vibration. This has led to many hip hop artists inviting interpreters to their concerts.

“I’m sorry!”

Another misconception people have when I tell them my parents are deaf is it is not a thing to be ‘sorry for.’ However, many deaf people do not consider it an impairment, and are proud to be part of a linguistically distinct culture. They consider people pitying them as slightly offensive. Deafness does not mean incapability in other areas of life. It is the lack of understanding of this which causes discrimination, and underemployment of deaf people. I have seen firsthand the repeated rejection my mom experienced while searching for jobs which did not require verbal communication (e.g. baking), and be told she was not a good enough communicator (she was perfectly oral, and graduated top of her class). My dad works a full time job and has been for the last 25 years.

Deafness and a close knit community

The difference between deaf and hearing people? It is common for deaf people to show up unannounced, and to stay for many hours to just talk and gossip! I have heard that this is more of an older generation thing, because in the past, people did not have cellphones. So, the only way to socialize was to go to someones house. My childhood was filled with playing and socializing with loads of other CODAs (child of a deaf adult) for hours on end! Due to the small number of deaf people, they are more linked by the commonality of being deaf. Most of the deaf people who went to deaf schools have known each other since childhood, and my childhood CODA friends had parents of many different backgrounds and cultures.

I did sneakily take advantage of it sometimes!

I have always loved music, and being raised by a deaf parent made it so I could play the music as loud as I wanted, and sometimes sneak friends over!

‘If both your parents are deaf, why aren’t you deaf? How did you learn to talk?’

Deafness is rarely caused genetically. And things like illness during pregnancy can cause it. My grandparents were hearing, and I went to primary school and daycare.

Sign Language is not universal, and it is its own language.

I would recommend any parent to teach their baby this expressive language! I did my first ASL (American Sign Language) sign at 3 months old, ‘milk,’ and most babies can sign before they have the ability to talk. My mom would adapt some difficult signs to make them easier for me as a baby.

Courtesy of Earthie Weber (Me signing ‘cookie’)

For important things, an interpreter generally had to be present. I went to Edinburgh, and realized this on a bus with a sign language interpreter on the display screen. Even though English is spoken there, the sign language is completely different than ASL, and is called BSL. There are also places in the world with entire communities of deaf people, for example the Kata Koluk in Indonesia.

Deaf directness

The other thing I absolutely love about growing up in deaf culture is that you always know where you stand! There is no beating around the bush. If you are not looking great after your divorce and have gained weight, a deaf person will tell you. Honesty, and being open is valued. I remember times being at a restaurant and embarrassed if the waiter asked if the food was good because my mom would give her honest opinion if it was not. I would lie and say it was fine! Other times, there were no boundaries, and I knew about ‘adult worries’ at a young age. Sometimes I miss this honesty in the non-deaf world, and can offend people for being too direct, so I have to be careful to be more tactful.

I’m PROUD to be a CODA!

Being able to experience two cultures has been a gift. Generally, people have commented on how they find me easy to talk to and a good communicator. I think this is largely due to being a cross-cultural communicator my entire life. Deaf communication is very present and facing each other is a must.

I have a deeper empathy for the marginalized. I used to have trouble with not feeling like I fit anywhere and felt strange presenting how I am to the outside world. I had a completely different upbringing and was a bit embarrassed. Now, I have fully accepted and embraced it, and hope to be able to support my mom and dad more fully in the future. I am happy the world is becoming more accessible and understanding of the deaf world and culture, and I hope there will be more opportunities for deaf people to excel!”

Courtesy of Earthie Weber

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Eartha Weber. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. You can learn more about this topic here and here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Minutes after learning my daughter was deaf, an older woman complained I wasn’t ‘shushing’ her loud enough. I smiled through tears.’: Mom gushes deaf daughter is ‘amazingly fearless,’ says she’ll do ‘amazing things in this world’

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